Suspension Extended Following Review
Waikato regional councillors have today voted to extend the suspension period for elected member Fred Lichtwark as he has not completed all remedial actions in more than seven months.
Cr Lichtwark was suspended in February following an independent investigation under the Waikato Regional Council Code of Conduct for Elected Members into three complaints of angry and abusive behaviour last November.
As a result, he was suspended from all committees, subcommittees and other representative roles. However, he remained a member of the full Council which meets monthly and as required, continued to receive agendas and was able to sit in on all formal meetings.
Ahead of today’s Council meeting, Cr Lichtwark made a written apology to councillors and staff, saying it had never been his intention for any “alleged words, hearsay or gossip” to make them “feel intimidated, inadequate or inept”.
But during the meeting a number of councillors said they considered that the apology did not demonstrate the genuine remorse expected.
Councillors heard that Cr Lichtwark had not completed all of the remedial actions agreed in February. As well as apologies to council and the individual complainants, the remedial actions required Cr Lichtwark to undertake appropriate training to address an angry and abusive communications style, the provision of mentoring and entering into a statement of good conduct.
The decision to extend the suspension until remedial actions are completed to the satisfaction of the chair was made during a public excluded session, that was then moved into the public session.
Council chair Russ Rimmington said, “Given the significance of the decisions made seven months ago, it was important that a review be undertaken in a way that accords with the principles of natural justice.
“This means being fair to all the parties involved.
“It is relevant that the actions taken in February in response to the complaints served not only as a penalty. They also provided an opportunity for Cr Lichtwark to progressively improve his interpersonal skills and relationships with councillors and others without the demands of his previous workload.
“Councillors listened with an open mind today, but overall there was disappointment that the remedial actions had not been completed despite plenty of opportunities to do so,” Cr Rimmington said.
“Councillors agree that Cr Lichtwark makes a valuable contribution around the decision making table. That’s why the door remains open for the decision to be reversed, if he completes the remedial actions.
“In the meantime, today’s decision does not affect Cr Lichtwark’s ability to represent his constituents. Over the past seven months he has continued to be an active participant in Council meetings, and has been involved every step of the way in setting the council’s budget and work programme for the next 10 years,” Cr Rimmington said.
“He’ll continue to work with his elected member colleagues, as he has been, and be able to keep up with council business.
“That includes receiving agendas and being able to sit in on all formal meetings he wishes to attend. However, he will not be able to participate unless the committee chair grants permission to do so. In full Council meetings he’ll be able to raise matters, in line with standing orders, as well as vote.
“I am confident all councillors will work together in the best interests of our communities – just as we have done already throughout this triennium – through robust discussion and sound decision making,” Cr Rimmington said.